Violence Prevention Curriculum for Adolescents

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss some elements of an effective violence prevention curriculum for adolescent students. We'll explain what students should learn and ways to implement violence prevention curriculum in a school setting.

What to Teach

Most schools have district directed violence intervention strategies, meaning that something has already occurred and certain disciplinary protocols will address the incident. Intervention occurs too late to stop violence from occurring, and so implementing a violence prevention curriculum is meant to address potentially volatile situations before they occur. There are several specific skills that students need to learn in order to develop a violence prevention program.

Social Skills

Much of schooling involves socialization, and a lack of social skills can lead to violent situations. At the adolescent level, this becomes more critical as students are ending their time in school and this may be your last chance to instill in them important social skills to function in the real world as adults. Learning to effectively communicate and interact with peers and authority figures is critical at this level.

Some activities to reinforce good social skills may include:

  • brainstorming characteristics of what it means to be a good friend and a good person
  • role playing common situations like making new friends or resolving a conflict
  • writing a personal story about a time when they made a meaningful connection with others
  • assigning a group research project about social philosophers like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.
  • encouraging students to work in pairs with students they do not know very well

Coping Skills

Many students lack critical coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. frequently the inability to articulate one's emotional state as stressed, frustrated, anxious, sad, or grieving can manifest as anger and result in violent outbursts. You can encourage students to develop healthy coping skills by ensuring they have the vocabulary necessary to identify emotions that may look like anger. Model this skill and help students practice articulating their emotions using messages that begin with 'I feel'.

Sometimes students need ways to cope in the immediate moment of an angry outburst that can lead to violence. By providing protocols and strategies to help students cope, a school can foster an environment in which students have several tools at their disposal so that violence is not the go-to response when things get tense.

For example, anger can lead to the shortness of breath and hyperventilation, so practice deep breathing with students using a metronome or video. Meditation has been shown to have a calming effect on students who struggle with stress. Take a moment each day to sit silently breathing in meditation. Students may need to work through these uncomfortable feelings in their own way so encourage journaling, poetry writing, taking walks, or walking away when things become unbearable.

Interpersonal Relations

Adolescents are just beginning to feel the stir of their hormones compelling them toward the human mating ritual. For this reason, it is critical to include some tips for romantic interpersonal relations as an effort to prevent teen dating violence. Provide curriculum that includes information about what healthy relationships look like, as well as 'red flags' or warning signs for unhealthy relationships. Too often students do not know what love should look like and abusive or stalking behaviors are easily confused with true love.

Even if the school district has a strict abstinence-only sex education policy, it is still possible to provide this kind of curriculum by framing it in language that does not emphasize sexuality but rather dating and courtship. Avoid using fear tactics or indulging in the inevitable giggles that may come with such a lesson. Make sure students know who they can talk to if they need to ask personal questions about interpersonal relations. Title IX is a federal legislation that provides protection to students who may be experiencing sexual assault or teen dating violence. This law can provide guidelines about specifically what to teach students to remain in compliance.

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